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5 Facts: Union Army Brig. Gen. John F. Reynolds

Born on September 21,1820, John Fulton Reynolds was a career United States Army officer and one of the most respected senior commanders during the American Civil War.

By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, Reynolds was a brigadier general. On the morning of July 1, 1863, he commanded the left wing of the Army of the Potomac, with operational control of the I, III and XI Corps as well as Gen. John Buford’s cavalry division.

5 Interesting Facts About Reynolds’ Life and Career:

The Ultimate Refusal: Reynolds and several fellow officers supported the idea that Gen. John Hooker be replaced after the Union Army’s loss at the Battle of Chancellorsville in spring 1863. President Abraham Lincoln met with Reynolds privately on June 2, and it is believed Lincoln asked Reynolds whether he would consider being the next commander of the Army of the Potomac. Reynolds supposedly replied that he would be willing to accept only if he were given a free hand and could be isolated from the political influences that had affected the Army commanders throughout the war. Unable to guarantee this, Lincoln ultimately promoted George G. Meade to replace Hooker on June 28. 

A Fateful Bullet: On the morning of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Reynolds rode ahead of his troops to meet Buford and discuss strategy. As he was supervising the placement of the 2nd Wisconsin, he was said to have yelled, “Forward men, forward for God’s sake, and drive those fellows out of those woods!” At that moment, he fell from his horse, having been hit by a sharpshooter’s bullet near the base of the back of his head, and died instantly. 

An Unfortunate Distinction: Reynolds was the highest-ranking general killed at Gettysburg, and his loss was keenly felt by the Army; he was loved by his men and respected by his peers.

A Hero Remembered: Reynolds was buried in his birthplace of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1863. Befitting his importance to the Union and to Pennsylvania, he is memorialized by three statues in Gettysburg National Military Park and another in front of Philadelphia City Hall. There’s also a John F. Reynolds Middle School in Lancaster County.

A Secret Romance: Reynolds was secretly engaged to Catherine “Kate” Hewitt, who he’d met while sailing from San Francisco to New York in the summer of 1860. They spent less than a month together on the ship but fell in love and exchanged keepsakes. Reynolds went to war in spring 1861 and died two years later, and there’s no record of the two exchanging letters or meeting during that time. However, after Reynolds’ death, Hewitt told Reynolds’ sisters that she’d pledged she would join a convent if he died. True to her word, she joined the Daughters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1864. Eventually she left the nunnery and married a florist in New York.

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